Where's the satnav for family life, eh?

Alice O'Keeffe's "Squeezed Middle" column.

“No, you shut up and let me read the sodding map.” In an attempt to spend Saturday doing something “different” (that is, not mooching around our local park), we have ambitiously embarked on a day trip to Greenwich. I’ve never driven to Greenwich before and have no idea how to get there.

It wasn’t until we had already loaded the buggy, the nappy bag, coats, hats, changes of clothes for everyone, snacks, the scooter, a potty (just in case) and both children into the car that we realised the satnav wasn’t working. The screen was endlessly displaying a twisting, white spiral alongside the words “Waiting for GPS . . .”, for all the world as if Samuel Beckett had got into the machine.

This was bad news, because Curly and I have fundamentally different approaches to navigation. I like to be told what to do at least three steps ahead and in a calm and decisive tone of voice. He prefers to wait until the very last second before saying something like, “You could take a left here or not, if you’d prefer to take a right and go round the other way, it’s up to you.”

There is nothing more calculated to send me into paroxysms of expletive-laden rage than a car journey with Curly doing the map-reading. Sure enough, now we are lost somewhere on the Isle of Dogs, I am infuriated and in the back seat both children have begun to wail, with all the soothing effect of a couple of cheese graters applied to the cerebral cortex.


“Wait!” Curly has been waving the gizmo pointlessly above his head. He now lowers it and peers at the screen, upon which a little, spinning egg timer has appeared. Then – oh, miracle! – a tiny map and, a second later, a well-spoken woman’s voice: “After 300 metres, take the next left and then stay left.”

Immediately, the atmosphere in the car lightens. The children are lulled into silence by the forward motion. Curly switches the radio on and hums along cheerily to Smooth Radio. “I think I fancy that woman,” he says, as I turn with brisk confidence on to the A13. “Which woman?” “The voice of the satnav.” “Oh, her. Yeah, so do I.” “She’s so calm and consistent, she never changes her mind.” I can’t help but feel this is a pointed remark.

“She’s so clear and knowledgeable, I know I can completely rely on her,” I retort.

The satnav beeps. “Stay left and then turn left. In 300 metres, you will reach your destination.” Right on cue, the masts of the Cutty Sark make a welcome appearance on the horizon.

If only there was an equivalent of satnav to guide us through the other tricky areas of our family life: a satnav child behavioural expert, say, or a satnav financial adviser. Now there’s a bloody good idea. I should take it on Dragons’ Den – it could make millions.

Alice O'Keeffe is an award-winning journalist and former arts editor of the New Statesman. She now works as a freelance writer and looks after two young children. You can find her on Twitter as @AliceOKeeffe.

This article first appeared in the 20 May 2013 issue of the New Statesman, The Dream Ticket